Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, those delivering legal aid were generally either doing so at a loss and/or reliant on subsidies from private work or grant funding. This was not a sector that was financially robust and able to withstand the severe reductions in income that have eventuated from the crisis. The crisis has had a severe economic impact on those delivering legal aid so, over a period of six months commencing October 2020, the Commission:
- held oral evidence sessions on Criminal Legal Aid, Family Legal Aid, Civil (Non-Family) Legal Aid, Experiences of the Bar, Access to Justice and the Future of the Legal Aid Workforce; and
- carried out an in-depth workforce survey to gather and analyse quantitative and qualitative data about financial viability and human resources to establish a comprehensive picture of how many organisations and practitioners are currently working in legal aid, their ability to enter and remain in the profession, their capacity to respond to client need, and in doing so to forecast how many legal aid firms and NfP organisations will still be practicing in this area in the years ahead.
The intention behind this research wasto gather the evidence required to assess the impact of the legislative climate and the pandemic upon access to justice and equality both for practitioners and members of the public. We hope that this will inform the policy-making that will determine how the legal aid system recovers from the crisis, both immediately and in the longer term.